Sometimes, the stream of mail and paper into our homes can feel neverending. Don’t let letters, bills, and junk overwhelm you, though! Here are some tips from Big Rocks Organizing to rightsize your paperwork and manage the flow of paper into your home.

Tips to Manage Incoming Mail/Paperwork:

  • Set up a station for processing your mail. Choose a readily available and easily accessible location. For example, near your front door, at your kitchen “command center,” your home office, or wherever you open mail. Make your station simple. Here’s what you need:
    • A cross-cut shredder
    • A recycling receptacle
    • A garbage can
    • A file organizer (one example here) and five file folders (any color), or a five-slot tray if you prefer to store things horizontally. Alternatively, try a wall-mounted file holder.
  • Assemble a simple system of “action” folders. Here’s a popular setup for our clients:
    • Create action categories using your five file folders, or your five horizontal or vertical slots. Some common categories are: “To Pay,” “Follow Up,” “To Read,” “To Scan,” and “To File.” Edit yours in a way that meets your needs. Don’t complicate your system with more than five categories. Instead, keep it easy to maintain. Remember: less is more.
    • If you are a visual person (60% of us are), consider using color-coded folders. For example, my “To Pay” folder is red, for urgent/important. “Follow-Up” is orange, “To Read” is yellow, etc. I go from warm colors to cool, based on urgency. Alternatively, you can also keep it simple using only manilla folders. It’s your choice; use what makes sense to you.
    • Add reminders to your calendar to tackle your action folders. They’re called “action” for a reason. Some files might need more attention than others—your “To Pay” folder, for example, to meet due dates. You get bonus points for auto-paying your bills and receiving electronic statements! We’ll talk more about reducing incoming paper below. Even spending fifteen minutes per week can preserve your sanity and help you feel in control.
    • Open your mail at least once each week. Accumulating mail can be overwhelming and can lead to avoidance. As a result, you can feel stressed. If you’re buried in mail and need to catch up, ask friends or family to help or reach out to a professional organizer. Play some fun music and throw a paper sorting party.
    • Open and sort your mail as you’re walking from the mailbox to your home. I toss my recycling into the bin before I even go inside. Then I just tackle shredding and file anything I need to keep in my action folders.

Rightsize the Amount of Paper in Your Life:

  • Once we file papers (including electronic ones), 80% of the time, we never use them again. Focus on the 20% of papers you actually reference or need to keep and let the rest go.
  • If it’s easily findable information on the internet or from another source, let the paper go.
  • Oftentimes we keep papers as visual reminders to complete tasks, but this can lead to clutter and visual overwhelm, and then in turn to avoidance. Instead, consider using a task management program, bullet journal, to-do list, or a notebook to keep tasks together.
  • Many of us crave information. We have a tendency to hold onto magazines, articles, or information that we plan to read in the future. The future is now. Mark your calendar each week (even just 15 minutes) to read these items. If you haven’t read them before the next issue arrives, consider recycling them
Pile of mail waiting to be sorted and shredded.

Give yourself some guidelines. For example, if you subscribe to a monthly magazine, allow yourself to keep only the two most current issues. It could take years to read through all of the material we have collected. What’s more important to you? Reading these materials (which are probably out of date by the time we get to them) or other activities? Again, there is no correct answer, but be realistic in regards to holding onto reading materials (I say this as an information junkie myself).

Reduce the Inflow of Paper into Your Home:

  • Get digital magazine or newspaper subscriptions. Could you read them on your computer, phone, or tablet?
  • Use paperless billing.
  • Opt out of any information sharing and marketing communications when you add new services.
  • Remove your name from distribution lists:
    • DMAChoice.org removes your name and address from many distribution lists. You need to register and pay a $2 fee (totally worth it!). Then, select categories of mail you want to unsubscribe from (catalogs, ads, etc.).
    • Catalogchoice.org is free, but only allows you to unsubscribe from catalogs one at a time—you can’t choose multiple lists. However, if you’ve been a client of a company you’ll need to visit their website or call customer service to get off their list.
    • OptOutPrescreen.com, a service offered by major credit bureaus, allows you to opt out of credit card and insurance offers. It does require sharing some of your personal information, but it is a legitimate service. You can opt out of unwanted offers for five years online, or you can mail in a form to opt out permanently.
    • Paper Karma, a paid app, allows you to take a photo of your junk mail, and then they do all the unsubscribing for you.
  • I like to stamp junk mail with two inexpensive stamps I created through VistaPrint. Both are in red ink. One is “RETURN TO SENDER” and the other, “Please remove me from your mailing list. Do not rent, sell, share, or trade my info.”
    • It’s very satisfying to stamp unwanted junk mail and return it. Two things to note, though:
      • You need to cross out the barcode with a black marker so it doesn’t come back to you.
      • It only works with first-class mail.
    • Some clients prefer using a blackout marker to obscure their contact info, then recycling it, rather than shredding it. They find these markers fun and satisfying to use.
  • What about donation requests from charities that you don’t want to just stamp “Return to Sender” on? Write a reusable letter template to politely request to be removed from their mailing list.
  • It may take up to six months to see results. Be persistent and it will show!

A special note about shredding: some folks save material in grocery bags or bankers’ boxes for local shredding events. These events typically let you shred two or three small boxes for free, sometimes in exchange for donating to a charity drive. Other people keep a box in their trunk, then drop it off whenever they are near Staples, Office Depot, or the UPS Store. These stores usually charge about $20 per box. Be mindful of the risk of identity theft if someone steals or breaks into your car.

Personally, I keep my shredder where I sort my mail—in my kitchen. The shredder lives underneath the island countertop with the bar stools. My kitchen might not grace the pages of House Beautiful or Sunset Magazine, but my shredder’s easily accessible, so I actually use it.

Pro-tip: place a paper grocery bag inside your shredding bin. Then, when it’s three-fourths full, fold it over a couple of times and staple it shut. Place it in your curbside recycling bin. It’s a great way to stay on top of shredding. We had a client who burned through two shredders and spent over twenty hours shredding documents from more than three decades. This exhausted him before his move. We eventually called a shredding company to pick up over ten remaining boxes of shredding for a very reasonable fee after his second shredder quit. He, and his aching back, were relieved.

Choose whatever method makes you happy. Tackle these tasks a bit at a time (no need to do it all at once). Reach out to us for assistance if you’re feeling overwhelmed or if you’d like a turbo boost on rightsizing the paper in your home!